Because he tapped me on my shoulder in the PC Bang and said, Do you want to go to ping pong room tomorrow? Because in the ping pong room we talked over instant coffee, and played Beatles music together. Because he asked, Do you want to go to Amen Church with me? And because I said yes and I sat with him in the chapel pews with his Korean-English bible, reciting Korean. Because he introduced me to his friends, culture, and way of life. Because he gave me hope on Sundays when I was alone. Because one night he said, Duck, let’s eat, and I said yes because I never had duck in another country, or soju to wash it down with. Because he slapped my back when a bone was caught in my throat and we watched it fling in front of us like a slingshot. Because we couldn’t stop laughing about that. Because he showed me pictures of his son and daughter who are married and have their own families in Seoul. Because he’s a proud father and he inspired me to be like him, except perhaps with a little less of the late-night gambling, soju, and cigarettes at the PC Bang. Because I hugged him before I left South Korea. And, because it’s hard to hug people these days.
Spencer Shaak is a MFA Graduate from Rosemont College who taught English as a second language in an elementary school in South Korea in 2015. He misses the kids he taught there. He made many great friends there; one of them, a man named Shim much older than he, is the person spoken about in this piece.
My father’s house burned down during my first confession. Dad had a hangover and dropped me off at Saint Patrick’s while he and my brother Jeb went to a local diner for coffee and eggs. I spent a few excruciating few minutes in the confessional in which I denied having any sins. Then I sat on the church steps reviewing the transgressions the priest had assigned me (Have you ever deceived your mother or your father?) and watching a huge cloud of smoke rise beyond the A&P.
“Probably someone in the trailer park fell asleep with a cigarette going,” Dad said as I climbed in his yellow Ford Pinto. My father was obsessed with fire. He inspected the crumb traps of toasters and told cautionary tales of doomed Christmas lights. He lived in the guest cottage, but was forever showing up at our house to unplug appliances and monitor my mother’s overflowing ashtrays.
We passed the cornfields and the mucky llama farm. The closer we came to home, the more silent we became. The fire was not on Christmas Tree Lane. The trailer park seemed empty and deserted.
“Jesus Christ!” my father cried as we rounded the corner, “it’s my place!”
“I’m glad I was at the diner with him so he couldn’t blame this on me,” Jeb said later as we dug through a pile of charred country music records.
My mother and my oldest brother Joey arrived home with groceries. Joey found the fire hilarious, his stock reaction to most of my father’s misfortunes. My mother, who played the organ for a rival church, looked for answers in the blackened sky.
Jocelyn is a Los Angeles-based writer and teacher. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Hippocampus, Talking Writing and elsewhere.
Waking early and hungry, he leaves the warmth and comfort of his suburban bi-level house on Sunday mornings. My father drives, not to the closest bakery, but to one he deems the best in the art of bagel boiling and baking, and carefully chooses a variety of the classics- plain, onion, sesame, poppy, rye and pumpernickel. Several dozens, along with packages of cream cheese, are placed into multiple bags and deposited semi- anonymously on friends and neighbors doorsteps. As the sun continues to rise, and he is confident that others will be awake, he begins to receive something in return for his gift, a cup of coffee, glass of juice or a morning schmooze. The phone at our home where my sister, mother and I are still asleep starts ringing providing an audible trail of his visits.
Walking through Bombay among blue flags makes you feel home among the tall skyscrapers. They make you feel a sense of deep power which makes you realize why only in Mumbai among all the other cities the blue flags still capture and resonate while the financial databases speculate on trade commodities, derivatives. The blue flag stands for very different things than the red. But the two colors cannot be thought without each other. If red symbolizes life, blue the essence of life.
Though the days of Dalit Panthers is long gone and Dalit movement has seen countless debacles, twists and turns, it is in Mumbai that the politics still holds the imagination of the urban-scape, visually. Among my first two visits to the city, I was largely caught up with work, but it was the blue flags and the impending hope of the them that I couldn’t help but be drawn towards.
When the Beats first came to India, they had noted the divergent preference and style of the Bombay and the Calcutta poets. The first were modernists obsessed with mastering the form while the second were political. One can only wonder what the Beats might have felt or said if they had met the Dalit poets of Bombay and not the English poets. How would Ginsberg have navigated his oriental fascination among the Dalit Panthers? That’s an event which could well be an alternate fiction that Deborah Baker might have wondered too countless times I feel, when looking at the blue flags of Mumbai juxtaposing the orange ones, the color that found its way to the West with so much ease.
Debarun Sarkar sleeps, eats, reads, smokes, drinks, labors and occasionally writes and submits. He spends most of his time juggling between freelancing and writing while halting at Calcutta for the moment. Recent works have appeared in or are forthcoming in Visitant, Off the Coast, Your One Phone Call, Literary Orphans, Tittynope Zine, The Opiate, In Between Hangovers, Wild Plum, among others
Italians live with this very strong belief that the amount of hatred you feel towards your partner in a romantic relationship is equitable to the amount of love you have for them. This love/hate courtship shows itself as a couple fights in the town piazza, two actors performing for the crowd. There is no shame in public. She smacks him across the face for whatever wrong he did, or he’s screaming at her, an inch from her nose, vile insults are sprayed at each other, he grabs her arm a little too hard when she walks away, it’s all very beautiful to them. This same scene placed in an American coffee shop or mall would be a hideous sight for us. We keep these spectacles for our private homes and whisper the results to our best friend’s weeks later. But here in Italy, I imagine the onlookers thinking, “Che forte amore.” What strong love. “Ti amo o ti ammazzo”: it was a hit pop song on the top 40 countdown last summer in Florence, but it represents this concept that the Italians have been living with forever, probably. “I love you or I kill you”.
An April morning, or maybe March, my children and I were enjoying the medium-low sunlight, when my son, Jacob, found a roly-poly. We congregated and proclaimed it a fine representation of its species, clumsy in its armor, as if playing dress up in its grandfather’s old army coat, and concluded that it was most likely on its way home from a sleepover, whereupon I returned to my writing, they to their explorations. A few seconds later I turned my head to a quick succession of three strikes: the first soft, the second and third with a consecutively sharper snap. Jacob crushing the roly-poly with a golf ball to a gray paste.
A stunned second and then I was yelling, “What are you doing? No No!” and sent him on a big timeout. This from my gentle boy, my movie-time snuggler – this unprovoked devastation, exercise in the superiority of breadth, unfortunate example that even the sweetest boy will instinctually destroy what differs from himself.
Crying not just from my admonishing but because he really didn’t know why he had done it, head in his killer’s hands, smear of the murdered insect and the crushing ball at his feet
My daughter, Olivia, sauntered over and inspected the pulpy remains of the roly-poly. “Oh,” she said, her voice skipping over a pool of sadness, and then standing before the penitent boy on his timeout, began berating him, “No Jacob, No!” Her tone transcended her usual bossiness, and was not a mere mimicry of my tone, but rang of something deeper, something issuing from her that was innately feminine, of unprotected life and the mourning of common tragedy; she who insisted upon vanquishing every spider from the house was whipping my son with words, her body jerking with spite.
Chilled now in the warm yard a sister waits for her brother’s apology.
Josh’s stories have been published in several literary journals, a couple receiving Pushcart Prize nominations. His books include the seriocomic novel Alexander Murphy’s Home for Wayward Celebrities and the collection My Governor’s House and other stories.